The Bus People

The Bus People

by Rachel Anderson

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Bertram drives his bus every morning and afternoon for a very special crew. Some don't talk, some can't walk; everyone is different in some way or another. But in spite of the barriers that set these passengers apart, each one has his own or her own story to tell.

For Rebecca, even though she won't be able to wear her pink bridesmaid's dress, the most exciting event of the year is her beloved sister's wedding. Micky, trapped in a crumpled body and unable to speak, tells of his desire to be independent and his frustration with the suffocating love of his mother. Jonathan wants more than anything in the world to be useful—and gets his chance one day in church. Fleur, quiet and pretty, has an astonishing reserve of inner strength. Her story reveals how she came to be loved by a family who accepts her as she is.

The Bus People by Rachel Anderson is an unusual collection of stories about mentally handicapped children, told with great sensitivity and humor by an author who is herself the mother of a mentally handicapped child.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466878785
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 08/19/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 102
File size: 156 KB
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

The author of several books for children, including The Bus People, Rachel Anderson is a mother of four who has worked as a journalist and an actress. She lives in London.

The author of several books for children, including The Bus People and Paper Faces, Rachel Anderson is a mother of four who has worked as a journalist and an actress. She lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

The Bus People

By Rachel Anderson

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 1989 Rachel Anderson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7878-5



The mini-bus is driven by Bertram. It's licensed to carry thirteen passengers, though there'll only be seven on board today. Bertram collects his passengers at the start of their day. Bertram takes them home again, right to their own front doors, at the end of the afternoon.

Bertram wears his old blue donkey jacket, and carries an unlit cigarette between his lips. The government's warnings about lung cancer don't bother Bertram. When you've been driving the fruit-cake bus as long as him, you've seen more of life and so you're not afraid of a painful death. That's what Bertram says anyhow.

He'll light up as soon as he gets to Andy's house. There's always a bit of a wait for Andy to come out.

Bertram reverses out of the parking bay, backs round the locked petrol pumps, slides narrowly past the other buses, and across the yard. The cold engine coughs. Bertram's flaccid lungs cough. Bertram isn't a fit man, not A1. That's why they put him on the fruit-cake run.

"You'll take the specials, O.K., Bert?" the boss told him. That was three years back when he'd just come out of the hospital. Lung trouble. The boss wanted Bertram to have it easy.

"'Fraid it's a bit of an early start on the specials. But any rate you'll get a nice quiet day to yourself. Till you go to pick 'em up again at three."

"Right on," said Bertram to his boss. "Special run it is."

Bertram's been doing it ever since. He's come to really love his fruit-cake run. You get to know your passengers, Bertram says, when you see them every day. Bertram likes the early start.

"Then you know you're alive, don't you?" he says. "Get the roads to yourself too."

So here we are, ten past seven in the morning, and he's already swinging out onto the road while all over town most normal citizens and clerks and school-kids are still crawling out from between the sheets, groping towards their bathroom mirrors to check who they are, grappling with their boiled eggs, fighting with their shoelaces.

But not Bertram's crew. They'll all be ready for him when he calls by, all except for Andy, that is.

"A rum lot, my team," said Bertram. "Nutty as fruit-cakes, most of them. That's why I get on so well with them." And he laughs. "I like 'em that way. Wouldn't swap my fruit-cakes for the world." Which is just as well, because none of the other drivers ever seem to want to have a crack at the fruit-cake run. What with the fits, and the shrieks, the nodding heads, and the rolling eyes.

Here he comes now, swerving round the roundabout, down Iris Avenue, across Tudor Terrace, and into Jubilee Gardens to pick up Andy.

Bertram sounds the horn outside Andy's house, letting Andy's dad, as well as the rest of the silent street, know he's there. Andy's dad already knows. Andy's chair is ready standing out on the pavement. Bertram loads it onto the bus and climbs back into his driver's seat. Time to light up and relax while he waits for Andy. There's never any point in getting impatient with any of his crew.

In Andy's house, there's a lot of scuffling going on. Andy's the eldest of four.

Let trumpets sound and carrillons play! For here comes Andy now, triumphant, ready to face the day, down the garden path, cradled in his father's arms, tiny king of his family, worshipped and adored. With three doting sisters and two loving parents, Andy need never lift a finger. Andy can't ever lift a finger.

Andy's father is in his bathrobe. There's never time to dress till the king of the roost has been seen on his way.

"Wotcha there, matey!" Bertram calls through the driver's window.

But Andy doesn't reply, for he must concentrate with all the might of his frail hands on clinging to the broad terry-toweling of his father's shoulder.

Andy's in, seat belt securely strapped, just in case of accidents. Bertram has never had an accident in thirty years behind the wheel. But just supposing he did, with this precious royal cargo on board?

"Croak, croak," says Andy.

"See the match last night?" Bertram asks.

Andy raises his withered hand and nods. "Croak, croak," he says.

"His tablets, Bertram. In his pocket. Tell Mrs. Lovegrove." Through the driver's window which is closed, Andy's father mimes tablets, pockets, and swallowing. Bertram nods and waves. Message received. Over and out, and on our way.

Mrs. Lovegrove is the escort lady. Bertram goes to her house straight after Andy's. According to the terms of the vehicle insurance, according to the rules of the bus company, according to the local authority education laws, Bertram may not take on board a single passenger until the escort is there, ready to cope in case of incidents.

"But it seems daft, doesn't it, doing it that way round," says Bertram, "when Mrs. Lovegrove lives just beyond Andy's home. I'd have to go all the way up Jubilee Gardens right past his house to fetch Mrs. L. And then all the way right down again. No sense in that, is there?"

Mrs. Lovegrove agrees. So she and Bertram carry on doing things their way, making up their own rules, ignoring the ones thought up by other men and women in suits in official departments.

"Bye, Cinderella!" Bertram waves to Andy's sister, standing on the doorstep in her nightie. "Have a good day."

"Croak, croak," says the king, who likes to be alone in Bertram's bus, as though it were all his own, as though he were making a morning tour of his domain. Up Jubilee Gardens, down Coronation Grove. Pity it's not further to Mrs. Lovegrove's. Though any distance is far enough to have a seizure. And what would happen then? How would Bertram cope? How would he drive the bus and see to his passenger's royal tongue and regal lolling head? Let's not count our problems before they've happened, thinks Bertram. Andy won't go having no seizures, not here on my bus, even if Marilyn sometimes does.

"We're all right, then, aren't we, me old matey?" Bertram half-turns to say to Andy.

Yes, I'm all right, thinks the king, seated behind his chauffeur, tied onto his throne, smiling and waving at the chirping sparrows in the privet hedges of his domain.

"D'you know, sometimes I think our Andy's one of the happiest kids alive," said Andy's father once to Andy's mother.

Bertram would agree with that. And so would Andy.

So now we've got Bertram and Andy. Then in half a moment, there'll be Mrs. Lovegrove, and Rebecca, and surly Micky who never speaks. Who are the others who, day by day, month by month, travel on Bertram's fruit-cake bus?



On Friday afternoon, Rebecca, plump and pretty in green, scrambled to reach the door of the school bus the moment it stopped. Usually she moved slowly and thoughtfully. But today she was down the steps, across the gravel, and struggling with the latch of the front gates well before Mrs. Lovegrove, the bus escort, had time to get up and help her.

"Hey, Beccy! Beccy! Your bag! You've left your bag!" Mrs. Lovegrove shook it like a duster out of the bus door.

Rebecca went back reluctantly.

"And what's all the rush for, anyway?"

"It's her sister," said Bertram, who usually knew everything about everybody, for he read the City Gazette with care, spotting familiar names, faces, forthcoming events.

"Wedding," Rebecca agreed.

"Gonna be a right fair do, ain't it? Champagne, cake, music, six bridesmaids. And it's our Madam Beccy here what's gonna be the belle of the ball, ain't you, ducks? Sister to the bride, so that makes her chief bridesmaid. Blue, didn't you say?"

Rebecca shook her head in despair at Bertram's poor memory for detail. She had been discussing wedding plans with him ever since her sister's engagement was first announced. She knew she had described to him at least twice the color of the bridesmaids' dresses. How could he forget?

"No to blue, Bertram. Never mind. I tell you again. It's pink, pinky, pink. And I tell you before, lots of times."

Tomorrow was the happy day, the most beautiful day since Rebecca's life began fifteen years ago in the labor ward. As chief bridesmaid, she had the third most important job of the day. The most important went to Jane, as bride. The second most important went to Graham who was to marry Jane.

"Bertram, I show you pictures after," said Rebecca kindly and she climbed back up the steps of the bus to give him a hug. Too late, she remembered her mother's constant reminder that she was not to show physical affection to any person who was not part of her family.

"D'you understand me, darling? Now you're a big girl, you have to stop hugging people you don't know, especially men."

The introduction of yet another rule of conduct dated back to a day when Rebecca was feeling particularly friendly towards the butcher, in his blood-stained apron. Instead of staring at her before turning quickly away as most people did when they saw her coming, he'd waved at her over the lamb chops.

"Why?" said Rebecca, in surprise.

"Because," said her mother vaguely. "Just because. It isn't the done thing. You never know where a hug can lead. Specially with a girl like you."

Rebecca knew exactly what that meant. It meant a girl with 47 chromosomes instead of 46 for, unlike sulky Micky on the bus, who often didn't know what he was or why he was, Rebecca was quite clear on these matters. Her mother had told her from the start precisely where she stood.

"You are a Down's Syndrome sufferer. It's not your fault. But it means you'll never be the same as your sister Jane, nor the rest of us."

Her father, more gently, had said, "But it doesn't matter who a person is, or what a person looks like, so long as a person is loved. And you, Rebecca, are loved."

When, some weeks later, Rebecca had inadvertently hugged the milkman as he set down a carton of orange juice and a natural yoghurt four-pack, her mother reminded her once again of the social behavior appropriate to people with that extra chromosome.

"We do not show physical affection to grown men!" she said sharply.

"Not even my Bertram?" said Rebecca, petulant. She spent more hours of her life in the company of Bertram, sitting on the bus, watching the back of his neck than she spent with any other adult male, including her father. Bertram was her best friend.

"No. Quite definitely not Bertram. I've just explained it to you, but I will explain again. You are not to embrace any men, however nice they seem. I shall have to have a word with that driver about it."

"Not even Daddy?" Rebecca asked, checking her mother for consistency.

"Of course you can hug Daddy. He's your father. That's different."

"And Jamie? Not Jamie?"

Jamie was a cousin whom Rebecca was allowed occasionally to hold on her lap. Jamie was two years old and did not yet know about Rebecca's extra chromosome nor that, because of the chromosome, she was considered by some to be a species apart.

"Of course you can still hug Jamie. He's your first cousin. He's part of our family."

Gradually, by a process of trial and error but mostly error, Rebecca learned her mother's rules of etiquette. Her father seemed less concerned and continued, whenever he was around, to give Rebecca boisterous bear hugs which squeezed the air out of her, making her gasp and giggle at the same time.

"Now, missy! Steady on there!" said Bertram who'd known all the rules of hugging long before Rebecca's mother ever explained them to him. "Don't go wearing yourself out, or you'll have no energy left to hold your sister's bouquet." He released himself from Rebecca's grasp and gave her a pat on the shoulder. "Have a great day now!"

"Bye bye bye!" Rebecca waved to Bertram, to Mrs. Lovegrove, and to those of her travelling companions whose faces, still pressed to the bus windows, were apparently looking out. But Micky, Darryl, Andy and Marilyn, every day, twice a day, spring, summer, autumn, and winter for years and years, had seen the driveway leading up to Rebecca's gracious home. So now, they merely stared out with glazed unseeing eyes.

And in so doing, they missed a surprising change in the view. Rising steadily, inch by inch, above the high clipped hedges which surrounded the house, appeared a giant wedding cake, white with red wooden bobbles on the top. Rebecca wondered for a moment what it was, then realized, with excitement, that the wedding had begun.

Jane had told her that things would seem a bit strange this weekend. This must be what she'd meant.

"Bye bye bye!" Rebecca sang as she raced up the drive on her tiny fat flat feet, surprisingly graceful for 144 pounds and 4 feet 9 inches tall, round the hedge, along the herbaceous borders where the lazy afternoon bees hummed among the lavender, to the lawn beneath the drawing room windows where seven hairy men were straining on ropes, hauling up the canvas, to make a huge white tent stand up like a hollow cake with scarlet icing on top, all for the great and happy day.

But these seven loud men in overalls were, Rebecca knew, no part of the family. Much as she longed to stay and watch, she knew that rules were rules. She must ignore the exciting progress of the marquee's steady rise. Somehow, she must pretend it wasn't there. Nor the seven noisy men shouting and calling to each other and making holes in her father's smooth green lawns with their pegs and hammers and feet.

Rebecca went indoors, headed straight for the kitchen, and sat down at the table to wait, as she did on normal days, for her mother to prepare the tea. Curiously, today no tea cups, teapot, milk or spoons had been laid. Nor did her mother appear, though Rebecca could plainly hear her voice elsewhere in the house. In fact, she could hear many people in the house. Everything was disturbingly topsy-turvy. But Rebecca would not let herself be upset. Her sister had told her it might be like this.

"You love me, don't you, Beccy?" Jane had said. "So you'll put up with all the turmoil of a wedding day, won't you darling? Just for my sake?"

Rebecca had nodded. An important request asked in a solemn moment together. Her sister was good. Her sister had asked her to be chief bridesmaid. "Beccy darling, you do see that after the wedding, nothing will ever be quite the same. But you know how much I love Graham, don't you, and how I want to be with him always?"

Yes, Rebecca knew. She knew it meant that Jane wouldn't be living here, ready to love and protect Rebecca as she had always done before. But Rebecca knew that Jane's love for Graham was as important as Rebecca's love for Jane.

"I got forty-seven chromosomes," she told her sister, as though Jane did not already know. "You got forty-six. You marry Graham. You got new white dress. I got new pinky."

Through the kitchen window she watched the men at work, though she did not let them see her watching. Weddings, Rebecca knew, meant disorder as well as happiness, for Jane had told her so.

"But it'll only be chaotic for the one weekend. Then you'll all be back to normal again."

"Normal again," agreed Rebecca. "All just the same."

"Well, no, not exactly the same of course," said Jane. "Because after I'm married, I'll be living with Graham."

"Living with Graham who loves you."

"That's it. Gosh, by then I'll be a Mrs. Isn't that extraordinary? I can hardly believe it."

"Then not living here, not any more."

"That's right, darling. I won't be here because I'll be moving to the new flat. Remember you came and saw it when I was making the curtains?"

Yes, Rebecca remembered.

"But you'll come and stay with us lots and lots. And then after a bit I'll have babies. Well, I hope I'll have babies because that's what we both want. And you'll come and stay and you'll be their aunt. Won't that be terrific?"

"Aunt," said Rebecca. "Why aunt?"

"Because that's just the way it works, doesn't it? If I have children, you'll be an aunt. But before that, you'll be a bridesmaid and get a present. Each of the bridesmaids do. Graham's chosen them. A pearl necklace for you, because you're nearly grown up, and silver brooches for the little girls."

The marquee, its topmost ridge now on a level with the bedroom windows, made Rebecca think of a great white ark waiting to be filled with creatures arriving, two by two, and all in their pairs. The lion and the lioness. The ram and the ewe. The stallion and the mare.

Tomorrow Rebecca would be wearing the dress of oyster-pink taffetta with its gathered sleeves and long full skirts, and she would be there to hold her sister's bouquet while her sister's fiancé put the golden ring on Jane's marriage finger. And then, before they walked back down the church as man and wife, she would return the bouquet of roses, lilies and dainty white bows for her sister to carry. As they came out of the church for the photographs, Rebecca would be there just behind them, and behind her would be the little bridesmaids. By tomorrow, Jane would be a wife and this great white ark would be filled with its people.

Three of the workmen in overalls came into the kitchen carrying a roll of artificial grass.

"Your mum around, love?" one asked Rebecca.

With his bushy eyebrows, he looked, Rebecca thought, almost like her father. But of course she knew that he wasn't. So she said nothing. She knew she must not talk to strangers. She must never talk to strangers, even if they tried to speak to her. She must never talk to men she did not know.


Excerpted from The Bus People by Rachel Anderson. Copyright © 1989 Rachel Anderson. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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